Why do we kill people
I am against the war, but you wonít find me among the tangle-headed college students in gauzy shirts lying down on the sidewalk and drawing a white line around my own warm body. I wonít attend meetings. I wonít stop traffic. My protest is so small as to be unnoticeable. On the way to work I light candles at the grotto at the Catholic church, bringing my hands into Namaste at my forehead and heart. I tend a small altar to peace I made on the bookshelf, pictures of Iraq and Bush and poems about peace, while I cook dinner. I think about peace, carry it around with me like a worry stone. I write about it though it seems there is nothing new to say. But when I see images of those angry law-breaking protesters being carried away, I burn with the shame of my shame. "Why canít we all just get along?" read a corny sign at the pre-war protests I drug my family to. Exactly. I canít seem to get along with either side now.
But I am against the war. What could be more supportive of our troops than wishing they were home with their wives and husbands and children and fathersóand their poor mothersóand not in a sand pit on the other side of the globe killing people? I want to send cookies. When I hand my son the box of new-fangled cleaning wipes, I am aware this is the most-coveted possession among our men faraway. I want to send them a truckload of the soft ones that smell like limes. When I lay in the bath, I think of them, their grimy stinking bodies that have not been cleaned in over a week. And I think of the Iraqis, too, the men who donít have time for a bath, and their families who are too afraid or whose taps no longer work.
Since that Wednesday night when we began bombing Baghdad while I was reading my son bedtime stories, I have lived a parallel life. When I wake at 6 a.m. to Caetano Veloso singing the cucurrucu of the doves on my CD alarm clock, it is 3 p.m. there. But no one is getting out of school. When I drive home from work at 5 it is 2 a.m. there, and when my son wakes at 2 a.m. in the thunderstorm that mirrors but is not in any way related to the sandstorms there, it is already almost time for lunch there. Lunch here is nearly time for bed there. They are always ahead of us, their past is our future.
While I was driving to work the other morning, I learned that we killed as many as 450 Iraqis while I was sleeping. My linen jacket was lying on the seat next to me, decorated with a pin I bought in a Provencal flea market more than 20 years ago. From the pin hangs a single tiny bell (when I bought it there were two bells and originally there were three). The part of the road I was driving on was so bumpy that the bell was constantly ringing its tiny sound. Every time a bell rings, I remembered from one of my familyís favorite Christmas movies, an angel gets its wingsóbut instead I imagined that every time the little brass bell tinged someone died.
I buy the New York Times compulsively and catch the noon BBC news hour on the radio. I avoid TV like I must avoid shopping at Target with a credit card or even entering the trendy dress shop downtown. I resist images that try to seduce me into this war. A story about families living in Baghdad, who take turns sleeping, who must distract the children, who pray all night, haunts me. I donít know a single soul in the military. Or in any Middle Eastern country. The realtor we worked with when we almost bought a house 18 months ago had a son in the Navy. I think of her every day. But I feel that if I do not try to learn exactly what is going on there, an impossible task of course, it makes me even more complicit. After all, Iím paying for this war. Donít I always check my MasterCard bill to make sure the charges are correct?
My friend Miranda disagrees. Living on a dry piece of land in New Mexico that is right now blooming with spring, she is making her art, learning how to repair her old adobe walls and preparing to plant her garden. She wonít watch the news, but everything she does is a conscious act of peace. Sheís trying to stop the war with art and the steadiness of the day-to-day.
Standing in line at Nauís Enfield Drugs was where I saw the first shots of the last war on TV. I was giddy and weak with fever and on my way home to stay put for a week with the flu. I remember standing in the middle of my tiny kitchen on my way to get more Tylenol and watching the tracers across my miniature TV. I was a single woman then whose entire life could fit in a couple of rooms. A tiny Peter Arnett reported endlessly on every channel while I ordered Chinese food to be delivered. The war got tangled up for me with my own illness and when I was well and ready to emerge back to life, the battle in Iraq was over, too.
"We regret the loss of life," a military officer said on the radio the other day. "Innocent life," he quickly corrected himself. What life isnít, at some level, purely innocent?
At school, Eli, whose older brother headed the PR committee for the schoolís recent self-produced opera, reported to my son that Iraq is going to bomb our cities. I tell Cope that you canít always trust someone who is six and you canít always trust the media either. I explain that their country is smaller than our state and the people are very poor and they are too scared to bomb us. Mostly, I believe this is true.
"Why is President Bush being so mean to them?" he asks. Maybe our boy wonít grow up and rebel against us by becoming a Young Republican, after all. However, to be fair I explain that the president is trying to kill an evil man who is the leader in Iraq. I tell him what Iíve heardóthat Saddam Hussein is truly a despot out to kill anyone who doesnít bow to his image.
"How did he get to be so mean?" my son wonders next. Iíve read that Saddam Hussein grew up a poor orphan in the countryside. I tell Cope he probably has a wound inside that is so sore and scary that he covered it up by being mean and making everyone think that he was a good leader so he could feel better about himself. This explanation closely resembles the one I told Cope about why the boy who joined the class mid-year was a bully at first. Itís why a lot of people do what they do.
At this point in the war, I
estimate that the number of people killed, innocent or not, on both
sides is about the same amount that were in my high school class, most
of whom I never really knew. Itís probably more people than I will
ever know better than strangers, in my whole lifetime. More people have
been killed than attend my sonís whole school, more people than live
at two of the affordable housing apartment complexes where I work.
Itís probably many more people than will read these words.